- On any other day, Man City scoring six in the Champions League would grab the headlines, but rival Man United scored twice in the final minutes to turn defeat at the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus into a vital three points.
Manchester City hit for six against Shakhtar Donetsk in Wednesday's Champions League action, but of the Manchester clubs it was United who enjoyed the more eye-catching result, scoring two goals in the final four minutes to inflict a first defeat of the season on Juventus.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s first Champions League goal for his new club was characteristically brilliant, but a Juan Mata free kick and an Alex Sandro own goal gave United the win. Valencia, which beat Young Boys 3-1 on the strength of two goals from Santi Mina, is two points behind United in third place in Group H.
Man City needs a point to confirm its place in the last 16 of the Champions League after a 6-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk, with Gabriel Jesus getting a hat trick–two of his goals coming off penalties, the first of which as dubious as they come.
Lyon sits second in Group F, three points back of City, after a 2-2 draw against Hoffenheim.
Elsewhere, Karim Benzema struck twice, becoming the seventh player to rack up 200 goals for Real Madrid, as the suddenly surging Spanish side hammered Viktoria Plzen 5-0.
Roma is level on points with Madrid at the top of Group G after a 2-1 win at CSKA Moscow. Kostas Manolas headed the Italians in front and, although Arnor Sigurdsson leveled after his fellow Icelander Hordur Magnusson had been sent off, Lorenzo Pellegrini found a winner.
In Group E, Dusan Tadic’s equalizer earned Ajax a point at Benfica, keeping it four points clear of the Portuguese side. Bayern Munich tops the group by two points following a 2-0 win over AEK Athens, with both goals scored by Robert Lewandowski.
Here are three thoughts on an action-packed day in the Champions League:
Man United's great escape
Manchester United has developed an odd habit of only being able to play after it has fallen behind–that's four of its last five games in which it has conceded the first goal–and it did so again in Turin to force a 2-1 win that had seemed implausible with 10 minutes remaining.
The performance from United was promising on the whole, building on recent positive domestic results. Certainly in the first half, it competed with Juventus in a way it hadn’t at Old Trafford. Even then, though, Sami Khedira hit the post and David De Gea had to make a good low save as Nemanja Matic deflected a cross towards his own goal.
Juve, though, seemed to take control in the second half. Paulo Dybala hit the bar and then Ronaldo, running on to Leonardo Bonucci’s ball over the top, smashed in a first-time volley of sensational quality. It perhaps wasn’t quite such a great goal as his last Champions League goal in that net–his overhead kick for Real Madrid in last season’s quarterfinal–but it was nonetheless a stunning strike.
As Juve switched to a back three, though, United began to offer more of a threat, and Marouane Fellaini unsettled the Juve central defenders. Two free kicks in the end proved decisive. First, Juan Mata curled a shot over the wall to equalize, and then an Ashley Young delivery bobbled in off a combination of Wojciech Szczesny, Bonucci and Alex Sandro. United had the win, and suddenly was two points clear in second after appearing like it would go into the penultimate matchday trailing Valencia by a point. The turn of events brought about an opportunity for Jose Mourinho to have his say after the final whistle, with the manager staying true to his brand by holding a hand to his ear to seek the jeers from the home supporters.
As for Juventus, it could have wrapped up first place in the group had it won, but it will now need to secure results in the final matches to keep its place atop the quartet.
Real Madrid puts its crisis on hold
Perhaps, at last, some semblance of normality is returning for Real Madrid. Nobody should get too excited about a 5-0 win away to Viktoria Plzen, not even one that puts it within touching distance of the last 16, but that is three wins in a row since Julen Lopetegui's firing, and the freefall is over.
True, the first of those wins was in the Copa del Rey against Melilla of Segunda 2 IV, but Madrid did win again over the weekend, with two late goals giving it a victory over Real Valladolid. The fact that result was treated with such relief suggests just what a state the club has found it itself. It was a first victory in six league games, but it was far from convincing. It did, though, perhaps give a little breathing space to caretaker manager Santiago Solari.
Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio were both booed as they were substituted in that game, and the latter was left out for Lucas Vazquez. Having lost away to CSKA Moscow a month ago, another surprise must have been feared, but Madrid was never in trouble on Wednesday. A jinking run from Karim Benzema brought the opener after 20 minutes, and his 200th goal for the club. Three more goals before halftime, from Casemiro, Benzema again and the maligned Bale, gave an old-fashioned Madrid-style gloss to the scoreline. Toni Kroos got the late fifth, giving Real Madrid some added relief. Just how much progress has been made will be seen in Matchday 5, when it faces Roma in the Italian capital.
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The irrefutable case for VAR
Often the debate over refereeing is tedious, post-hoc haggling over a decision made in the instant by an official that's far from clear even after viewing multiple replays. On other occasions, decisions are so laughably terrible that in a moment they make an almost irrefutable case for VAR.
For a skillful player, Raheem Sterling has a remarkably capacity to get in a tangle when he has to make a decision. The biggest doubt over his ability, whether he will ever be truly elite, is the way he so often seems to freeze when presented with the opportunity to shoot or deliver a cross. So it was after 23 minutes as he chased onto a Fernandinho throughball. Having got in behind Mykola Matviyenko, it seemed simply a question of working out a way to beat Andriy Pyatov in the Shakhtar goal.
But instead, he hesitated, the ball got caught under his feet and, in his efforts to extricate it, kicked the ground, tripping himself up. It wasn’t a dive, it was just a comedic fall. But it certainly wasn’t a penalty, as Sterling’s look of embarrassment when it was awarded made clear. Referee Viktor Kassai, who was directly behind Matviyenko, perhaps thought the defender had clipped Sterling, but it was bewildering that none of his other officials could see what had happened. Gabriel Jesus converted to make it 2-0 and effectively end the game as a contest.
Sterling then showed what he can do, capping a brilliant run with a whipped shot into the top corner to make it three. Two further goals from Jesus and a Riyad Mahrez strike made it 6-0 and capped a second consecutive comprehensive win for City over its Ukrainian opponent.